Where is the liberal in Liberal?

So  Victorian Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Minister Nick Kotsiras has ‘warned’ Geert Wilders about what he can say when he speaks in Victoria. He:

 said Mr Wilders had the right to free speech, subject to the state’s racial and religious vilification laws.

Well, yes, that is evident. I am so glad that a Minister is taking the time to alert visiting foreigners of the Victorian limitations to their fundamental rights. As an aside I would also appreciate a Minister taking the time to alert ordinary Australians of some of the myriad of other regulations and laws they regularly breach, just so they know about them.

This is another worrying announcement from an insider class channelling deeply illiberal intuitions. At bottom, classical liberal institutions, rights and conventions limit authoritarian power, and protect individual autonomy. No government likes that. No political class likes that, regardless of their ostensible labelling. No politician schooled in crunching numbers, funnelling grants to local groups, or following the factional line gives a damn about it.

Thankfully the Federal Coalition is taking a strong stand on the most recent discrimination absurdity from Attorney-General Roxon.

But the more a Liberal/Coalition government plays to the smart class, the more they are willing to subvert liberal institutions. Both the O’Farrell and Baillieu  governments have form, through acts of commission and omission. This is despite O’Farrell’s strong  defense of the right to confidential sources, which is under threat from a Gillard government wanting to use it as a lever to get media to accept more regulation.

Yet the Liberal Party is, as I have argued, the traditional and strong force for classical liberalism in Australia.

The core issue for this Liberal is that there doesn’t seem to be any consistent policy or philosophic justification for positions taken at the NSW and Victorian levels. Rather, what we see is a combination of pandering to the smart class, trying to defuse any ‘bigot’ smears from opposing parties, and panicked responses to grassroots concerns about declining freedoms.

No doubt someone, somewhere is claiming that this is clever politics, supported by some polling data.

All I see is directionless meandering from politicians who desperately want to keep a Left-leaning media, academia and NGO sector onside, and who are unwilling to make an argument that in any way could lead to real political conflict. That drives them to a big government paternalism that is only distinguishable from Labor by its distance from unions, its mild reform of the public sector, and its less damaging embrace of eco-lunacy.

Inoffensive managerialism may seem like a low-risk option, but as is often the case, trying to eliminate risk is often the riskiest path of all.

A better way to demoralise committed staffers, grassroots members and motivated voters one could not find. A better way to energise ginger groups and alternative parties on the Right one could not find. And as I have written before, no party has a permanent claim to existence. The Federal Coalition should be watching closely.

Update

Barry O’Farrell pulls the trigger on shooting down the Roxon discrimination nonsense. Good on him. Here’s hoping he does so consistently and across all policy areas. Then I’ll be happy to eat my words for NSW.

Update 2

Capricious is the BOF: He giveth with one hand, taketh with the other:

On Sunday, Mr O’Farrell said he was concerned there was no attempt to prosecute those who held up ”offensive” signs during violent protests sparked by an anti-Islamic film in September.

”That blackened the city; that blackened my state. That’s why there is an upper house inquiry into [the] effectiveness of this legislation,” he said.

 

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